Rebecca Summerhays, lecturer in the College’s Writing Program, passed away on April 28.
The moment I met Rebecca one summer afternoon in Lulu, I knew we would become close friends—she was funny, irreverent, brilliant, and beyond kind. She taught me so many, many important lessons—about teaching, about living, about laughing, about caring, about yoga, about meditating, about walking, about searching, about decorating, about loving, and finally, about finding all that is good in this world and celebrating and cherishing it.
She had a quicksilver wit, an impish sense of humor, the most beautiful laugh, as well as a profound sense of the importance of the work of guiding students to find their true voices.
She could boil a complex intellectual problem down to a few essential elements, and she could take a subject of deep interest to her—the scientific elements as they were reflected in the literature of the Victorian era—and make them compelling to anyone who happened to be around. I loved attending her Newhouse lecture and listening to the difficult and careful scholarship she had done to make these abstruse concepts clear and compelling to her audience. She was an outstanding lecturer.
In the short amount of time I have worked with her students, it has become abundantly clear to me how much she taught them, and how much she cared about them, even when she was so ill. She was beyond dedicated, beyond brave: She taught her last class eight days before she entered hospice, 21 days before her untimely death. She had so much left to do, and she did more than anyone could have imagined.
In an article published in the Wellesley News, one of her former students, Emily Levine ’24, wrote about how much she looked forward to class, even on Zoom, because of Rebecca’s “warmth, trust, and transparency.” Because she encouraged students to craft during the “crafternoons” she established, many students across campus have taken up crafting.
She excelled at so many things: at teaching, at cooking, at yoga, at finding the best deals on Craigslist on the most specific items—like a Victorian fire screen—and refurbishing them. She was undaunted by any conceivable task: wallpapering, quilting, knitting, anything that had to do with her most profound sense of creation. A well of creativity lived deep inside her, a spark she shared so generously with all of us.
Most of all, though, she excelled at being a friend. We will miss her terribly.
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